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Blue Quills is unique in that it is the only residential school controlled and run by the Indian people themselves.
Stanley Redcrow, the chairman of the Blue Quills Education Council, worked for the school for 19 years as a maintenance man and boys' supervisor. In the summer of 1969 he received national prominence as he led people from the surrounding reserves to occupy the school and have it brought under their control.
The following interview was taken at Blue Quills School by a reporter from the Saskatchewan Indian traveling with the Prince Albert Urban Indians.
Sask. Indian: Mr. Redcrow, tell us a little bit about how you people got to control the school like you do now.
Mr. Redcrow: In 1967 we had a district white school committee meeting at Lac La Biche which is about 70 miles north from here. At that time the Superintendent of Schools was Danny Daniels, he told us that Indian schools were going to be phased out. After that we started talking amongst ourselves and we were not going to let the schools be closed down. We had some people working here at Blue Quills School, just two Indian men and two Indian ladies The rest of them were white people, most of them French people. One day I asked Father, who was the Administrator Principal, if he could hire some Indian people and he said they were not qualified. I didn't say anything afterwards but I told some of my friends that we should get to work, have some meetings and try and get some people to work here at Blue Quills School. So we asked Father to have a meeting with us and he said the same thing that Indian people were not qualified and that they would not be able to do the work. However we continued having meetings and when Indian people understood what we were trying to do, they came along with us with the idea of taking the School over and running it ourselves. Then the Indian Association of Alberta, the President and members came along with us and we had the meetings with them. Finally we had the whole district which we call the Saddle Lake-Athabasca District, comprising of about 6,000 people. There are 11 or 12 reserves. These reserves are Saddle Lake, Kehewin, Goodfish Lake, Frog Lake, Cold Lake, Beaver Lake, Fort Chipewyan, Fort McKay, Fort McMurray, Anzac and Janvier. These people came along with us and we has a big meeting one day. We said we're going to stage a sit-in and we did. It was in July 12th and we had a sit-in. We did not adjourn the meeting; we had meetings every day and finally we decided we should call the Minister of Indian' Affairs and Northern Development, Minister Jean Chretien. We sent some telegrams to him asking him to have a meeting with us but he did not come. He sent two of his Ministers, Robinson and Bergevan and we had meetings with them but they did not give us the answers so we sent them back to Ottawa. We told them to go back and tell Mr. Chretien to come down and have a meeting with us but he did not come. Two weeks afterwards he sent these two people back, Robinson and Bergevan and we had a meeting again with them, this time with a bigger crowd. We had about 500 people. We put them in the middle and we had placards which read: "Indians control School", "We want Blue Quills" and everything like that. The young people helped us and some old people also came along. We even had one person who was about 100 years old at the time and she was very interested.
Anyway these people didn't want to give us the answer "yes". They were beating around the bush and so I told them, I said "It's no use for you people to have a meeting with us. If you want to pay. the cost, we will bring 25 people and we'll meet with Mr. Chretien in Ottawa." They said no, only 5 of you people should come but I said "no". You make up your mind, we'll give you just a few minutes so they started talking to each other and they said OK bring your 25 people. So then we went to Ottawa and we had a meeting with Chretien. They didn't want to stay with us very long because they had another meeting somewhere else and he went away. We had a meeting with the Ministers but nothing came out so we stayed there and we told them we going to stay there till we got an answer. The next day, we had another meeting with him, this time we didn't want to let him go out until he finally made up his mind to say "yes". This time he said "OK" we'll make the agreement and we had these people do the writing. We were not satisfied with the agreement and we told him. He helped to change this agreement. We want to have it written just the way we want it, so they went back and again they brought us another agreement but it wasn't the way we wanted it. So we told them again that we didn't want the agreement. They went back once more and this time, they brought a different agreement. The agreement is as follows: "Dear Mr. Redcrow: This is to confirm my discussions with you and members of the Blue Quills Native Education Council on July 31, 1970, at which time I agreed to the preparation of an agreement or agreements covering the transfer of the operation of the residence and the classrooms at Blue Quills School to the Blue Quills Native Education Council.
My Staff will meet with your representatives to work out the details of this agreement which will provide the framework to overcome educational problems at Blue Quills. The agreements will be completed as soon as possible and will allow for the immediate transfer of operations upon signing. The end target date for the completion of these agreements will be January 1, 1971 for the residence and July 1, 1971 for the school. From now on and until the agreements are signed my staff will involve the Council in all significant decisions affecting both the residence and the school.
The Federal government will support the administration of both the residence and school financially at the budgetary level already determined for the 197O-71 fiscal year and my staff will consult with you regarding your proposed budget for the 1971-72 fiscal year. In addition, I will give immediate and serious considerations to the Council's request for additional funds to hold board meetings and to cover training programs and legal services for the current year.
The contracts covering both the administration of the residence and the school will, of course, be subject to normal governmental approval and control.
I want to assure you that my department stands ready to provide you with all the assistance we can to ensure the success of this project. Signed: Jean Chretien"
This is the agreement that was made when we came back from Ottawa, the sit-in was over, the people went home and then we started hiring the staff.
Sask. Indian: Did you hire all the staff including teachers and supervisors and right down to the cleaning woman and cooks?
Mr. Redcrow: Yes, we hired everyone of them. We had permission to hire the teachers also. So we did. And also the other workers, too, we hired them all.
Sask. Indian: Did you make any changes as far as the curriculum went and the teaching of Indian Culture?
Mr. Redcrow: Yes we made a lot of changes. There was no Indian language taught at this school. Right away I told the people to start teaching the cree language, reading and writing and also different ways of doing things to improve the Indian situation that is say, making moccasins, and bead work and all kinds of things like that. They are doing that now and the children are very happy.
Sask. Indian: I understand you have a cree teacher here, Mrs. Roseanna Houle, from nearby Saddle Lake Reserve. Perhaps you can tell us a little bit about her class and how she teaches the children.
Mr. Redcrow: She started with the alphabets and it took her a little while before she could make the kids under-
Cree teacher Mrs. Rosanna Houle.
Blue Quills School
Sask. Indian: How about financing? Were you able to start off with all the original equipment and with all the things that were left here before or did you have to buy new stuff and thereby put yourself deeply in debt?
Mr. Redcrow: No we did not put ourselves deeply in debt but we had to start from scratch. Whatever was left here was old and we had to start buying things. Of course we had to try and get some money from Indian Affairs and we did get some money. We got about $50,000 to start with and that wasn't very much because we had to buy what was needed: typewriters, sewing machines, and stoves and everything like that however, we managed to have a little money to buy these things and also to pay the people we hired. After that we made our own budget and it was approved. We got half of the budget we asked for. Of course we asked for a little bit more but they didn't give us the amount we asked for but they gave us $141,000 to start with and that was only half. They gave us the other half at the end of the fiscal year 1970. This is the money that we are using right now. So I think we'll have money to run the school for this year with that budget and we'll get the other budget at the end of this fiscal year.
Sask. Indian: How about staff? One of the big reasons Indian Affairs says they can't turn education over to Indian people is because they haven't got qualified people. Did you have any problems finding qualified supervisors and other type of personnel in the school?
Mr. Redcrow: No we didn't have any problems. We had some people helping us from the Indian Association and some other Indian people also who had the education and also we had one white man with us Mr. Roy Piepenburg and he's one of them who helped us quite a bit towards education. We had no trouble. We picked out the ones we thought were the best ones and we still have these people working here and they're very happy working with us. We also hired the teachers and fired them if we didn't like them. If we did like the teachers, we gave them so many months of probation and if we didn't like them, we'd fire them and get some other teachers that were suitable for the work.
Sask. Indian: Perhaps you can tell us a little bit about how Blue Quills School runs. How many students live here and how many come in from the outside and how many go into town for school.
Mr. Redcrow: There are supposed to be 112 students to stay here and we get about 90 of them every day and about 90 of them go back. We have 180 in this residence at the present time; 90 day scholars and 90 boarders. From here about 10 to 15 go to St. Paul; some of them in higher grades from grade 10 to 12.
Sask. Indian: In the past, I understood that all staff here were non Indian and that most of the goods and services were purchased from outside that is Edmonton. In what way have you been helping support the Reserve of Saddle Lake, which is the closest one, plus the people on other reserves nearby?
Mr. Redcrow: We have a Co-op store in Saddle Lake and we buy the meat from this store in order to support them a little bit and we buy about $1,000 worth of meat a month. Other reserves, we try to help them out as much as we can by hiring these people whenever there's a vacancy sometimes we have to change people around like supervisors and some other people too, working here. What we do is send out notices to all the reserves and from there we screen them out and we hire the ones we think can do the work.
Sask. Indian: Perhaps we can just conclude this interview by ,asking what you see in the future for Blue Quills School and residential schools in general and also Indian people in their search for control of their own education.
Mr. Redcrow: The people at the school here, are doing a real good job. When we have meetings, we talk about a new school, a bigger school up to grade twelve. We would like to see more Indian people get further education. We would like to have some doctors, lawyers, nurses and all kinds of professional people and we hope to get that far but of course it will take a few years before we can do that but they're coming up every year and finally I think we'll have all Indians working in this school. Right now we have some white people, engineers and teachers. They are mostly white people and I think maybe the other reserves and other places would like to have control of their schools. It's open to them because I think the Indian people are smart enough. I always said the Indian people are very smart and I think they can do the same as we did here and perhaps maybe the people in Canada are just watching to see how Blue Quills School is running and how it's going to work, but I can say that it's entirely up to the Indian people themselves where they belong in Canada. I think it's open to them and I think they're smart enough to do it too.
Mrs. Houle teaches the Cree alphabet.
Carole Sanderson talks to two ladies
who work in the kitchen.